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New York bans child marriage — only the sixth state to officially do so

Child Marriage
CBS Reports presents "Speaking Frankly: Child Marriage" 23:05

New York is now the sixth state to ban child marriage, after raising the legal age of consent to be married to 18.

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation Thursday. It takes effect 30 days after becoming law. 

"This administration fought hard to successfully end child marriage in New York and I'm proud to sign this legislation to strengthen our laws and further protect vulnerable children from exploitation," Cuomo said. "Children should be allowed to live their childhood and I thank the many legislators and advocates who worked diligently to advance this measure and further prevent forced marriages in this state."

In 2017, Cuomo signed a law claiming to "end child marriage," raising the age of consent to marry from 14 to 18. However, the law allowed 17-year-olds to be married with parental and judicial consent. 

Many activists claimed that meant parents could force minors to marry and claim it as consensual — while sex between an adult and a minor is a crime, marriage makes the same activity legal. The new law eliminates that exception. 

New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Rhode Island have all implemented laws completely banning minors from marrying. But most states still still allow youth under the age of 18 to marry, including youth who are legally emancipated or who have parental consent or judicial approval. 

Some organizations, like chapters of the ACLU in Northern California, argue that outright bans would strip youth of their right to form their families and eliminate one of the only pathways to exit the foster care system through emancipation. Other opponents to these kinds of measures offer religious arguments, especially when a pregnancy is involved.

Regardless, "in all cases, girls who marry before age 18 are harmed for life," UNICEF says.  

The states with the highest per-capita rates of child marriage are Nevada, Idaho and Arkansas, according to Unchained at Last, a nonprofit that advocates against child marriage. Advocates argue that the only way to end the statutory rape loophole is to end child marriage in all 50 states.

Aid groups warn COVID-19 pandemic could lead to child marriage spike 06:45

"Regardless of maturity level, minors lack sufficient legal rights and autonomy that they need to protect them if they enter a marriage contract before becoming adults," said the bill's sponsor, state Senator Julia Salazar. "The vast majority of minors who enter a marriage are teenage girls, and getting married before adulthood often has devastating consequences for them.

Nearly 300,000 minors were legally married nationwide between 2000 and 2018, a recent study by the Unchained at Last found. The majority of those marriages involved 16- or 17-year-olds — but some involved were as young as 10. 

And 86% of the children who married were girls — most wed to adult men an average of four years older. 

The numbers have decreased significantly. In 2000, at least 76,396 minors were married. By 2018, that number was 2,493.

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